Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Power of a Poem 17

Yesterday I promised readers of this blog that I would paste a copy of the wonderful poem "Dublin" by Louis MacNeice below.  I have been talking about the sense of place in poetry in English and Irish in Irish Literature in these pages.  I have also referred to posts I have written on the same topic in my Irish blog, Aisling, for those of you who are familiar with that tongue.  Everyone of us is defined by a complex combination of genes, family and society.  Wherever we are born we are inevitably coloured by our family and surroundings - both nature and nurture.

I came to Dublin when I was only six years of age from Roscrea County Tipperary.  My late father was seriously ill and the family had no option but transfer to Dublin city whewre he could be better cared for and get a new "light" job.  I loved Dublin city from the start even though we were living in poor surroundings in Ballybough.  However, that was 1964 and there were no drugs on the streets and we boys played football on those same streets until darkness fell.  Also living so close to the city meant that we went there to shop, or more frequently to "window shop" (that is a phrase we used for looking at what we coulkd not afford to buy).  I loved walking down Talbot Street, Henry Street, Marlborough Street, Gardner Street, Parnell Street, O'Connell Street, Abbey Street, North Frederick Street, Dominic Street, Mary Street, North King Street, and, of course, the famous Moore Street.  These named streets were the streets of my boyhood and adolescence.  On occasion we would cross either O'Connell Bridge or the Halfpenny Bridge to go south of the Liffey.  We Northsiders on occasion would deign to cross the river!  I always loved walking through Trinity College which I did for thye first time with my father in my early teens.  We went in to visit the great Book of Kells.

Other places we frequented were the two famous railway stations - Amiens Street Station (now called Connolly) and King's Bridge Station (now called Huston), Guinness's Brewery and the famous People's Gardens and The Phoenix Park.  This was the Dublin of my youth - a wonderfully vibrant, if poor and decadent in places, city where there was literally no great amount of crime and absolutely no drugs.  The poor amused themselves with street games, collecting glass bottles so they could be redeemed by the shopkeepers for a few pennies.  Anyway, I've always thought that the following poem captured my Dublin.  It is a poem with a great declamatory style.  It's almost as if the historical persons represented by the various monuments were themselves telling the story that is Dublin, were themselves introducing the city to us in the words of this great poem.


Grey brick upon brick,
Declamatory bronze
On sombre pedestals -
O'Connell, Grattan, Moore -
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
And the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse.

This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

The lights jig in the river
With a concertina movement
And the sun comes up in the morning
Like barley-sugar on the water
And the mist on the Wicklow hills
Is close, as close
As the peasantry were to the landlord,
As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,
As the killer is close one moment
To the man he kills,
Or as the moment itself
Is close to the next moment.

She is not an Irish town
And she is not English,
Historic with guns and vermin
And the cold renown
Of a fragment of Church latin,
Of an oratorical phrase.
But oh the days are soft,
Soft enough to forget
The lesson better learnt,
The bullet on the wet
Streets, the crooked deal,
The steel behind the laugh,
The Four Courts burnt.
Garrison of the Saxon,

Augustan capital
Of a Gaelic nation,
Appropriating all
The alien brought,
You give me time for thought
And by a juggler's trick
You poise the toppling hour -
O greyness run to flower,
Grey stone, grey water,
And brick upon grey brick.

-- Louis MacNeice

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